I owe my existence to Winston Churchill and a narrowly avoided military disaster.
See my other blog entries on the LST:
Touring LST 325
Chasing LST 325 Down The Ohio River
In the last week of May and the first week of June in 1940, the British Expeditionary Force was cornered in Dunkirk, France. Two hundred thousand British troops and 138 thousand French troops were trapped and in extreme danger of being destroyed by the incredible German advance. The prayers of a nation were answered and in what became known as the Miracle of Dunkirk, 338 thousand troops were evacuated by 850 ships and boats in nine days. Anything that floated from British destroyers, to commercial fishing boats and privately owed pleasure craft were employed in the evacuation. While this confused armada was effective in evacuating the troops, a king’s ransom of equipment, artillery pieces, trucks, tanks, ammunition, and fuel was left behind because there was no rapid method to load the vehicles and material on the ships.
Dunkirk was a bitter lesson to Winston Churchill and the British Admiralty. The near disaster demonstrated with an undeniable clarity that the tactics of vehicle based warfare needed a new type of ship. Modern warfare does not allow time for conventional docking and crane operations to unload heavy equipment. Dunkirk demonstrated in reverse that a modern attack on a beachhead would require the troops and vehicles to hit the beach running.
Winston Churchill provided some of the design criteria to the Admiralty for the British precursors to the LST. British shipbuilding, though, was completely occupied with the fabrication of warships. After an agreement at the Atlantic Conference between Churchill and Roosevelt in August 1941, the British Admiralty met with the US Navy’s Bureau of Ships for the design of a sea going shallow draft ship that could rapidly deploy troops and combat vehicles on to beach heads, and then pull back out into the water.
From a ship building perspective, a shallow draft ship has a unique advantage, it does not have to be built in a deep water port. Rather than divert critical resources from large ship building, the LSTs were designed to be built in the US by inland shipbuilders located on navigable rivers. The overall size of the ship had to fit in existing locks and be able to sail under bridges. The Dravo Corporation, located on Neville Island a few miles down the Ohio River from Pittsburgh, was a builder of barges, river tugs, and water construction projects prior to the war. The Navy contracted Dravo to help design the ships and develop rapid manufacturing techniques that would lead a number of non-ship building steel companies into the conversion of efficiently building LSTs.
Dravo built the first LST in record time. USS LST 1's keel was laid at Neville Island on July 20, 1942, and the ship was delivered to the Navy on December 14, 1942—less than 5 months! Dravo built 145 LSTs during the war. The American Bridge Corporation in Ambridge, Pennsylvania built 119. There were a total of 1,051 LSTs built during WWII with the majority being built by the Missouri Valley Bridge and Iron, & International Steel Co. in Evansville, Indiana.
The LST was a moderate sized vessel, 328 feet long and had a beam of 50 feet. It carried 2,100 tons of cargo at roughly 9 knots. It was armed primarily for defense against air attack.
LSTs were used in landings in Sicily and Italy. The initial beaching on D-Day used 173 LSTs. They were extensively used in the Pacific with the largest flotilla of 343 used in the first landing on Okinawa. Of the 1,051 built, only 23 were lost to enemy fire, and another 16 lost to weather or accidents. Most of the ships were scrapped in the late ‘40s after the war, but some built by Dravo during the war served in Korea and later in Vietnam.
Late on a Friday night, in March of 1946, a young man got on a streetcar in Pittsburgh. He spied an attractive young woman sitting near the front of the mostly empty car.
Pointing to the empty seat next to her, “This seat taken?” he asked.
She made a sweeping gesture with her eyes around the empty streetcar, and said “I suppose not.”
“Where you headed?” he asked.
“Mount Washington, and you?”
“Duquesne Heights, hey we are practically neighbors.”
“So what did you do in the war?” she asked.
“Navy, Pacific, and you?” he replied.
“I welded LSTs down at Dravo.” she replied.
“LSTs! Really? An LST took my Sea Bee outfit from Saipan to Okinawa. Best damned ship I was ever on. It had fresh water showers.”
A discussion on the relative merits of the LST and naval architecture in regards to what sort of things she welded and how he liked sailing on one then ensued. A date was made for the next day. I was born 3 years later.
What are the chances that any of us are conceived and born? If you look at the particular chain of events and circumstances that led to you, it is an amazingly tenuous upside down cone shaped web of happenstance that brings us to the light of day. One tiny change, a ringing phone—even ignored, could result in a sibling rather than you. Events of the past weigh heavy in your creation. Had not my grandfather’s older brother, the apple of my great grandfather’s eye, died of malaria in the Philippines in 1904, I would not be here.
What if that guy, in 1946, had asked the young woman what she did during the war, and she replied “Oh I soldered airplane radio tubes for Sylvania up in Brookville,” a job my mother had in 1942 and detested… “all I did was sit on my ass for 8 hours and soldered tiny wires I could barely see.” Would he have replied “Oh that’s nice” and then glumly stared ahead? What if the commonality of the LST had not existed between my parents on that streetcar?
My mother was no prude, and she knew how take care of herself when it came to men trying to hit on her. My mother loved her job at Dravo and she loved talking about it. She was genuinely proud that she had worked on something that was generally a man’s job and was good at it. I believe in my heart that the conversation about LSTs broke the ice, which led to the date, which led to the marriage, which led to the conception of me.
So I can honestly say that I owe my existence to Dunkirk, Winston Churchill, Dravo Corporation, little known air strips in Saipan and Okinawa, and a rather odd and ugly looking vessel known as the Landing Ship, Tank.
See my later blog entry on LST 325 here:
Touring LST 325
A good source of general information on the LST.
Wikipedia Landing Ship, Tank
An unbelievable source of information for each specific LST.
Here is a Waymark that my wife and I did on the Pennsylvania State Historical Marker for the Dravo Shipyard. I plagiarized a little from myself for the text above.
Waymarking.com WMHZF Dravo Corporation Shipyard
Here is an excellent book about the LST:
Amazon.com Don't Call Me Rosie
History of Dravo Shipyard:
Explore PA History
State Historical Marker, Dravo Shipyard:
Explore PA History
Here is an organization that maintains an operational LST. USS LST 325 is coming to Pittsburgh from September 1 through September 7, 2010.
The USS LST Ship Memorial
Image Captions & Credits:
Note! Click on the image for a full size version.
#1 Winston Churchill
Solarnavigator, Winston Churchill
#2 British Troops Evacuating Dunkirk
Wikipedia, Dunkirk Evacuation
#3 Dravo Employment Poster
Null Space "Point of Movement"
#4 USS LST 1 on the Ohio River Near Pittsburgh.
NavSource Online USS LST 1
#5 USS LST 1 Landing troops on the coast of Italy
NavSource Online USS LST 1
#6 USS LST 286 On the way to Normandy
NavSource Online USS LST 286
#7 LSTs at Normandy June 6, 1944.
Wikipedia, Landing Ship, Tank
#8 My parents on their wedding day, June 1947